Canaveral National Seashore | PADDLING

Paddling on Mosquito Lagoon at Canaveral National Seashore

Paddling on Mosquito Lagoon at Canaveral National Seashore

There are no lack of paddling opportunities at Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Eleven boat ramps grant paddlers access to Mosquito Lagoon, Indian River, and the Haulover Canal, a short canal that connects the other two together. These are all protected bodies of water, so you won’t be subjected to large waves unless it is a very windy day. See the Boat Launches web page here on National Park Planner for an interactive location map.

If you do not have a canoe or kayak, you can rent one at the Apollo Beach Visitor Center when it opens at 9 AM (includes paddles and life jackets). All boats must be back by 2 PM so that those camping on the islands in Mosquito Lagoon have access to them. The only time boats are not available is during high winds. While the National Park Service won’t stop you from taking your own canoe or kayak on the water, it will not allow rentals out during windy weather. If you are coming to the park for the sole purpose of renting a canoe or kayak, be sure to call first: (386) 428-3384.

Rent a canoe or kayak at Canaveral National Seashore's Apollo Beach Visitor Center

Rent a canoe or kayak at Canaveral National Seashore’s Apollo Beach Visitor Center

Rental canoes are large enough to hold two adults and a child. I even saw a group of three adults in one. There are only two seats, but the child can sit on the floor—seat cushions are available. When I first inquired about renting one I was told my daughter was too big and that I’d need to rent two canoes. Luckily, another Ranger told me that was not the case, and we took one canoe and had no problems. My wife later said there was no way she could have paddled a canoe by herself.

The National Park Service web page makes it sound as if you need to be standing at the Apollo Beach Visitor Center entrance at 9 AM to have a chance at getting a boat. However, a Ranger told me that there is not a large demand. I rented a canoe during Spring Break, and there wasn’t anyone at the Visitor Center at 9 AM except me and the park Rangers. There was only one other canoe rented on the day I was there.

The National Park Service also offers guided paddling tours on Mosquito Lagoon a couple times each month in the winter and spring. Tours depart from the Apollo Beach Visitor Center. You can choose either a kayak or a canoe, and there is a charge for the boat rental, not a per person charge. Tours are typically held during the week, so again, there is not a large demand. While it is best to register in advance, chances are you can get on a tour if you show up that day. I stopped by the Visitor Center just to get some information and found out a tour was departing in a half hour. Sounded like fun, so I signed up. Fees are paid at the entrance station, not at the Visitor Center, so as long as you have time to drive down the road and make a payment, you can get on a tour that same day. For a schedule, check the National Park Service’s Calendar web page for Canaveral National Seashore.

Guided paddling tour on Mosquito Lagoon offered by Canaveral National Seashore

Guided paddling tour on Mosquito Lagoon offered by Canaveral National Seashore

If you are going to paddle in Mosquito Lagoon, I recommend sticking to the northern end where all of the islands are located. They all look alike, so some navigational skills would be nice, though a GPS or a compass and common sense will suffice. It is no problem to use a phone GPS, as you can get a cell signal anywhere in the lagoon. While a phone’s GPS does not use a cell signal per se, it does require a connection to download the maps from a source like Google, unless you already have maps downloaded to your phone.

The good thing about Mosquito Lagoon is that it is only a few miles across, so you can’t go too far east to west before hitting the opposite shore. When heading south, if you leave the islands behind and find yourself on a wide body of open water, you are on your way to Playalinda Beach at the southern end of the park. Your only concern is when paddling north, as there is no natural boundary to let you know that you are leaving the park. Paddle far enough and you will end up in Georgia.

There is only one designated canoe trail at Canaveral National Seashore, the Shipyard Island Canoe Trail. It makes for a great family trip, as it is only 3.5 miles long and takes about 2 hours. As long as you know which direction to head in so you can find the starting point, following the trail is easy. White markers point out all of the turns. If you are new to paddling or just want to follow an established trail so you don’t have to worry about getting lost, you can’t go wrong with this trip. See the Shipyard Island Canoe Trail report for more details.

Directional sign on the Shipyard Island Canoe Trail

Directional sign on the Shipyard Island Canoe Trail

I did a little paddling on the open waters of Mosquito Lagoon, both when camping at one of the island campsites and when taking a short trip north from the campsite on the day I left. I am not a huge fan of paddling in lakes, ponds, or bays, instead preferring rivers, but the neat thing about Mosquito Lagoon is that you are very likely to have a few friends join you—dolphin friends. There are many dolphins living full time in the lagoon. In fact, though altered in the movie Dolphin Tale to another location, this is where the dolphin Winter was found.

Dolphins in Mosquito Lagoon

Dolphins in Mosquito Lagoon

Dolphin in Mosquito LagoonDolphins in Mosquito Lagoon

Dolphin in Mosquito Lagoon

Those traveling between Mosquito Lagoon and Indian River on the Haulover Canal may find themselves paddling with manatees, for these animals like the warm waters of the area. You can find them near the Manatee Observation Deck and at Bairs Cove Boat Ramp.

Kayaking on Haulover Canal

Kayaking on Haulover Canal

Manatees in Haulover Canal

Manatees in Haulover Canal

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Last updated on April 21, 2022
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